There’s a little less than a month now until the release of my memoir, Bumbling into Body Hair: Adventures of an Accident-Prone Transsexual. I’d rather keep it simple and just be excited, but that isn’t my DNA. Instead I’ve got anxiety up the wazoo and I find myself curtailed by disappointing fantasies of weak sales, offended reviews, and a whole lot of ho-hum regarding the writing. It would be one thing to keep my expectations low, but I enjoy flirting with the border of self-torture. Before anyone begins commenting that it’s all going to be okay, please know that I understand these are just as implausible outcomes as landing in a soft chair on the Ellen DeGeneres Show. If nothing else, I’m accustomed to my own neuroses. So in an attempt to foil my weaknesses, I’m writing today about the issues brought up in my memoir. Call it a teaser of sorts.
There’s no time for shame—It’s a whole lot easier to write that several years out from transition than it was when I was in the weeds, for sure. There were whole years where wave after wave of embarrassment and shame rolled over me, seemingly without end. I wasted so much time worrying and not moving forward. Yes, making a gender transition turns one’s world upside-down, without question. But if it’s something we need to do to survive in this world, then we should consider getting on with it so we can move through the negativity faster. Nobody deserves to sit in such hell for so long. As for people who would tell us not to transition, or harangue us for our feelings—I’ve learned that life is much better when disrespectful folks are not active in my world.
People respond to the nonverbal messages we send out—There’s nothing easy about telling another human being hey, I’m not the gender I was born. Heck, there are all kinds of scenarios in which this statement need not even come up, but when it does, it’s anguishing. One lesson I learned through my transition was that when I told someone I was excited about this change, they got behind me much more easily, and when I came to them full of reticence, their response was more often negative. It makes sense if we think about these moments as ones in which people are looking to be there for us. If I grouse to someone about my twisted ankle, I shouldn’t expect them to respond, “yay, twisted ankle!” They’ll more likely shake their head and tell me they’re concerned about me. So too if I begin with saying I’m struggling with some gender stuff and stare forlornly at my shoes, they probably will reply in turn. But there’s an important prerequisite in these exchanges, namely that person learning about the trans-ness doesn’t have an investment in my gender identity. These are the neutral parties–acquaintances, coworkers, folks I’ve just met, etc. For that other group…
People invested in the trans person’s gender identity need time to get with the program— Sometimes this is a whole lot of time. It’s a kind of litmus test, this telling someone “hey, I’m trans.” When an individual doesn’t have an investment in my identity, they congratulate me or comment that such a realization must have been difficult. But when they need me to be a certain way, I meet resistance. It became fairly simple to negotiate; when a friend or relative was shocked or unsupportive I told them that I too discounted myself initially. I too needed time to adjust and make sure this was how I really felt. When folks told me, “I don’t know if I can ever call you by another name,” I just told them not to call me by any name for a while. I reassured them that as long as they were genuinely trying, I wouldn’t pounce on them for getting my pronoun wrong. I tried to lower their stress level. Changing sex is a big freaking deal, but it’s not their big deal. That belongs to the transitioning person. For people who just couldn’t come around, I was disappointed, but I let them go. And lo and behold, I discovered just how many truly great people I have around me.
The medical industry is way behind on caring for transgender individuals—If American psychology guidelines describe standards of care for health care practitioners, not many in the medical community have read them. Time and again physicians have shown little to no cultural sensitivity, doled out not just incomplete advice, but also dangerously wrong instructions, or omitted something important I needed to know as a patient. For transgender people, self-advocacy is the only way to navigate through one of the most important facets of our well being—our health care. We need to keep talking to each other, to do our own research on innovations, treatments, products, and best practice. And it would be nice if we could pressure health insurance companies to provide us with proper insurance for our needs. It’s beginning to happen in small pockets, but it would be great to move the trend faster.
Hold on to that sense of humor because it comes in handy—There’s a lot about being an adult that is stressful and exhausting. Throw transition on top of the pile and yowzers, there’s a whole lot more to handle. But at some point all of the expectations we’ve been told to carry around with us stop making sense. Some guy at work makes a sexist comment about “how women just are,” and I stifle a giggle. A stranger makes an assumption about who in my family will have accurate directions, based on our gender presentation. If these are such Truths, why do they seem so fake? Possibly because oh, they’re fake. I can take those guffaws with me wherever I go.